MARK KRIKORIAN: All right, folks, I will not interrupt you again but – I will do it anyway. You can keep eating but I just want to tell you what we’re going to do is we’re going to show a segment from the “Homeland Security USA” show. It’s the opening credits and then one of the storylines from one of the episodes. That’ll show you what it’s about and – how long is it? It’s like seven, eight minutes.
ARNOLD SHAPIRO: No, no, no. It’s 3:45.
MR. KRIKORIAN: Okay, it’s less than four minutes. And then I’ll introduce Mr. Shapiro. (Off-side conversation.)
(Begin video segment.)
Narrator: The United States – with entry points at hundreds of airports and harbors and along a border of more than 100,000 miles – is protected by the Department of Homeland Security, including the Transportation Security Administration, the U.S. Coast Guard, Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Customs and Border Protection, including the border patrol. This is “Homeland Security USA.”
Arizona - The air and marine interdiction team routinely flies support missions with the border patrol searching the rugged Sonoran Desert, a hot spot for illegal immigrants crossing the border. The darkness provides cover for the illegal immigrants, who often wait until night to make their move.
For the Black Hawk crew, this only increases the dangers and challenges to find them. Their first call: 12 illegals spotted in the desert.
Blackhawk Pilot: Agent on the ground, you’ve got two more behind the big tree to your right, 90 degrees right.
Narrator: The first call ends with the swift apprehension of 12 illegal immigrants. But the Black Hawk crew receives multiple reports of illegal immigrants on the move.
Dispatcher: In the Silverbell area, I have an agent with a bailout.
Border Patrol Agent on Ground: Omaha, you’re flying right over top of me…I’ve got a situation on the ground following eight.
Pilot: Oh man.
Dispatcher: Omaha unit, copy Charlie 10-8 on BP west.
Pilot: Go ahead.
Dispatcher: Yes sir, you’ve got Charlie six on the ground. They’re waiting on a possible forty six backpackers.
Pilot : Hey, Agent 42 with Omaha. We’ve got the group on the left side of the helicopter in the spotlight.
Border Patrol Agent on Ground: 10-4.
Narrator: There is still one last call to respond to, one that catches everybody by surprise.
Pilot: Yeah, they keep coming up. Guys, I think we’ve got more.
Narrator: Arriving on the scene they find agents chasing more than 60 illegal immigrants scattering in all directions. Their eyes in the skies become even more critical for this pursuit.
Pilot: To the left, to the left.
Pilot: He’s in the trees.
Border Patrol Agent on the Ground: These are backpacks.
Pilot: There is one guy laying down.
Border Patrol Agent on the Ground:: We got him.
Pilot: Okay. I’ve got a couple of more here.
Pilot: Oh, shoot. We’ve got a group right down here.
Pilot: Right here there is a whole group. Oh, he’s got them. He’s picking those up, okay. He’s picking those up.
Dispatcher: Sounds like the desert is coming alive tonight.
Pilot: Yes, it does.
Pilot : It’s going to take a while.
Pilot in interview: Tonight started pretty quick. I mean, right when we got out the gate there was a call for an assist. We went there and we got those first 12 illegal aliens crossing. And right on the tail end of that we rounded up those same number, 12. And on the tail end of that we got another call; we ended up 19. And we were thinking about wrapping up the evening right about then and there was another call from another GSR and it turned out to be about 75 people we rounded up. So in the course of four-and-a-half, we got 120, 130 people.
(End video segment.)
MR. KRIKORIAN: In his more-than-30-year career in television, Arnold Shapiro has won an Oscar and Emmys and dozens of other awards and has been the producer of “Scared Straight!” which a lot of you may remember from – what was that, 30 years ago? Not to date anybody but it was a long time ago. I saw the clip of your getting the Oscar and, like many of us, you had more hair back then – (laughter) – and darker, too. And I actually look at my own videos from C-SPAN, which is now all online, from 1995 and (199)6 and I’m going, who is that young man? (Laughter.)
But anyway, Arnold has been in the TV business for more than 30 years. Not just “Scared Straight!” but “Rescue 911,” “Big Brother” – the series of summer series – and dozens of other TV series and TV movies and documentaries.
“Homeland Security USA,” which we just saw a snippet from, was a 2009 series of 13 one-hour episodes that were behind-the-scenes explorations of the work of Homeland Security in different parties. This was the border patrol but also the Coast Guard; I believe it was the Detention and Removal office at ICE; the inspectors at the ports of entry and the airports. Stuff you just don’t usually see. Sometimes, actually, you’ll see border patrol but a lot of –
There was one episode about interviewing some suspected child smugglers at JFK, and the little girl, herself, as well as the people pretending to be her parents. That’s the kind of stuff nobody ever sees and that’s the kind of stuff you really have to see to know how this kind of thing works.
Now, Arnold, himself, is the first to admit that it’s not investigative journalism – I think you’ve told a Hollywood reporter that – and that’s, in fact, correct. But it is a kind of explanatory journalism explaining – because it’s dramatic, obviously, with the music and the editing and the voiceovers, but it’s not dramatized. There are no actors.
This isn't like – they have these series on the History Channel. They have these people battling and the soldiers fighting and it’s like, well, I didn’t know they had TV cameras at the Battle of Waterloo – (laughter) – let alone accompanying the Roman legions.
This isn’t like that. These are the actual people. This is actually what’s going on. And I think it’s extraordinarily important for people to actually see this kind of thing in action in order to make sensible decisions about policy.
The Katz Award, just for those of you who aren’t familiar, was named after Eugene Katz, who was a board member of ours for many years and was actually involved in journalism. After Dartmouth, he was a reporter briefly for the Daily Oklahoman and then joined the family business which was on the business side of journalism; mostly radio stations and selling radio ads. But for many years, he was in that business. And we named the award after him to honor him for his long service on the center’s board. And he’s passed away a number of years now, so it honors his memory as well.
So without much further ado, I want to recognize Arnold Shapiro as a recipient of the 2010 Eugene Katz Award for Excellence in the Coverage of Immigration. And he’s going to come up and say a few words and also show another clip of the show. So Arnold, if you could come on up? (Applause.)
MR. SHAPIRO: Thank you. This is the first award that “Homeland Security USA” has received, and certainly the last. (Laughter.) The show is off the air and – (chuckles) – it had a short-lived run, but I’m especially honored that it comes from your group and that it has the unique distinction of being unique, the only one. (Laughter.)
I’m very proud of this series. I wish that it had stayed on the air longer. I wish it were on the air now. It would be even more relevant now than it was in ’09. But that was not meant to be. They put us up against “American Idol,” the number-one show on television; “NCIS,” the number-two show on television; and “The Biggest Loser,” which was a top-10 show; and us. So we didn’t make it.
But in the process of doing 13 one-hour episodes, we did about 150 stories. And so coming here today, I thought, well, how can I synthesize this down for you into maybe a half-a-dozen things that I learned as a result – bullet points, not paragraphs – what I learned producing this series because I came to this with about as much knowledge of immigration issues and border issues as the average person.
So these are my list. The first thing I learned is that, overall, DHS is doing a great job. Now, obviously, they’re not doing a perfect job or nobody would be crossing the borders anymore and we wouldn’t have any sort of drug problems and all that.
Obviously, unless there was a lot more money and a lot more personnel involved, things are going to get through that shouldn’t. But overall, I was amazed by the intuition of some of these officers and agents, how they just can spot something that’s not right, and their years of experience and how good they are and how effective they are.
We went down to places thinking we’d have to wait for days to get maybe one story. At the end of the first day, we’d have 10 stories. That’s how busy it is and how effective they are. So that was the first thing I learned. But overall, I think DHS is doing a terrific job – not perfect but terrific.
The second thing I learned was how shocking the amount of drug confiscation there is on both borders, on northern and southern. I just could not believe the quantities of every kind of drug you can imagine and pills all the way to heroin; heroin hidden in a computer screen, behind a computer screen; pills hidden in children’s toys; a family coming across the border – a husband, wife and two children – but the car was filled with bundles of marijuana and the officers were saying, how could a guy use his family as a cover for this? I mean, just amazing stories.
The drug issue is underplayed by the media. You have no idea, the amount of drugs they confiscate. And yet, there are drugs everywhere, so how much gets through, we don’t know. But what they confiscate is really an impressive amount on both borders.
The third thing I remember is that I had a breakfast with the then-head of security for DHS. And he said, the thing that keeps me up at night is not the southern border; it’s the northern border. He said, that is what worries me because it’s porous still – now, of course, this was two years ago. Hopefully, a lot of improvements have been made. He said, that’s the border I worry about.
And in fact, we have three different stories of Canadian citizens of Iraqi descent who have tried to come across the border and their stories were very fishy and they were all sent back. And a couple of them have tried repeatedly in different places to get across, so who knows what their intentions were. They didn’t have explosives on them but they were coming across for reasons other than what they were saying. And that was all the northern border.
So in terms of terrorism, the real danger is the northern border and whatever is going on in Canada. Obviously, in terms of quantities of undocumented people coming across would be the southern border. But the northern border gets short-tripped and we spent a lot of time up there in various places.
The fourth observation of mine was, overall – and of course there are exceptions to this – overall, how compassionate the CBP officers are. Many of them are Hispanic themselves. They all understand that the vast majority of these people coming over are coming over to work and to find work and to have better lives even though obviously they’re breaking the law trying to get in but they’re coming over to try to improve their lot in life.
And they treat them – I know you’re going to think, okay, well, you had cameras there so of course they treated these people very nicely. But a lot of times, we didn’t have cameras there. We were spread out all over the place looking for stories. And how compassionately and respectfully most of these officers treated most of these people most of the time. Obviously, not all the time but that really impressed me.
And along those lines, I want to show you a short clip of another story we did. This is at the San Ysidro border crossing just south of San Diego. This is the busiest border-crossing of any border in the world. More than 10 percent of all border-crossings that occur in any one day occur in this one place. And we were out on the lines and this is what we found.
(Begin video segment.)
Narrator: At the San Ysidro border, Customs and Border Protection officers are on the lookout for suspicious travelers and vehicles waiting to enter the U.S.
Border Patrol Agent 1: At nighttime, when it gets dark, that’s when you get a lot of illegals. They’ll hide in the back of SUVs. And they’ll put the windows tinted really dark so you can’t see inside. And so we’ll approach the passenger or driver, ask him to open the door and he can see inside.
That plate, I don’t know. I saw them from far, but that plate is a fake. That’s not a real plate.
Border Patrol Agent 1: Hey, Carson (ph). You know what? Hook them up, bro, and take them in.
Border Patrol Agent 2: I’m looking for the registration.
Border Patrol Agent 1: When I saw the plate, the lettering wasn’t right. And once I got a little closer I noticed there was a – it’s actually cardboard.
Border Patrol Agent 3: It’s a 45; you’ve got a body under the seat. Can you hold this up? It’s going to come down on our head.
Border Patrol Agent 1: Yeah, we just found a body under the seat.
Border Patrol Agent 1: Move your head, dude. I don’t want to squash your head.
Border Patrol Agent 2: Well, we’ve got to get her out from underneath the seat, though. We can’t keep her like that.
Border Patrol Agent 1: It’s kind of stuck.
Border Patrol Agent 3: Is she okay like that, Gino?
Border Patrol Agent 1 in interview: She was really close to the muffler. She was complaining about maybe her back being burned. We’re going to take a look at her. And if she needs medical attention we’re going to take her to the hospital.
(End video segment.)
MR. SHAPIRO: And that’s obviously cut down, what really happened. But these kinds of things happen all the time. I could spend the next hour just telling you sad stories of situations – I am going to tell you one though just because it was so amazing.
A husband and wife and two children – they were illegal. Their children were not; they were born in this country. And they were driving in northern Michigan, near the border, and somehow, they took a wrong turn and they wound up in Canada. So now they had to come back. I mean, they were in America; they’d made a wrong turn, now they were in another country.
They had to come back; they were discovered and he was taken into custody to be deported. And she is now left with no means of support with two children in this country and he is going back to Guatemala or wherever he came from. And, yes, they brought it on themselves. They had been living here for 12 years and that was the situation. But it was very sad to see because we met these people and all that, so it’s just – which leads me to my last point before I ask for any of your questions.
Yes, we need a major comprehensive immigration policy from A to Z. That became apparent the day I started researching this and became more apparent as we did these stories. It is such a complex issue, as you know far better than I. But just from doing this series, it just became apparent that everything we’re doing is Band-Aids and stop-gap measures. Everybody is doing their best to deal with the problem but it’s got to really be dealt with.
So those were my observations. It’s a show I’m very proud to have done. I’m sorry it’s not continuing. I don’t own it; ABC owns it. They have no plans to do anything further, just so you know. (Laughter.) Disney shies away from controversy. And that’s that.
But I’d love to answer any questions you have about any aspect of this show or our experiences. Yes, sir?
Q: Can you tell us how you approached DHS and what their review process was before deciding to work with you?
MR. SHAPIRO: I think the reason that ABC brought me into this project to develop it for them and then ultimately produce it is that I’ve done a lot of documentaries with law enforcement and I’ve done a lot of military, and so they felt that I would have more credibility, say, than the producer of “The Bachelor,” – (laughter) – who also has done stuff for ABC.
So my approach was to go to them and say this is pure documentary, that we want to tell the behind-the-scene story, that you will be able to review the episodes before they go on the air to make sure – not creatively; not to tell us that you don’t like that shot or that you think that story should be moved later in the episode but to review it in terms of not revealing national security secrets or procedures that they don’t want the public to know about.
That had to be agreed upon and we were very good about that. I think there were only maybe two or three times that they asked us to take something out or blur something because we were saying a little too much. But we had to agree to do that.
Usually, networks don’t do that. They don’t want anybody or a co-pilot to have any say but, as I pointed out to ABC, you’re not going to get this on the air unless you let them have a say; you’re dealing with national security here.
Q: (Inaudible.) I’m with Customs and Border Protection. Bill Anthony works on my team.
MR. SHAPIRO: Oh, please tell him hello.
Q: I will. And I wanted to tell you, you are a pioneer within the department because you opened the door for us to be able to work and do more television like that. And so we have the national – (inaudible, cross talk).
MR. SHAPIRO: Yes, with Nick Stein, who worked with me.
Q: On your team, but that’s because you opened the door for that – (inaudible).
MR. SHAPIRO: Well, thank you.
Q: It’s hard to get the – it is something that we, for CBP, from our perspective as an agency, working with the department, how can we show the reality of – I mean, show the other side of the story – because it’s always very one-sided content. How can we communicate better? So you are a pioneer down at CBP, opening –
MR. SHAPIRO: We tried to be objective and we didn’t have an agenda, so all we were doing is showing what is. And we didn’t have any secret agenda at all. Did you have a question?
Q: What was the reaction of viewers with this?
MR. SHAPIRO: You mean those who watched. (Laughter.) It was very positive overall. Before the series went on the air – as you know, Los Angeles has the largest Hispanic population north of the border – and there were a couple of demonstrations in front of ABC of Hispanic groups before it went on the air, fearing that we were going to do some hatchet job or something or that it had a political agenda, which we didn’t. And that went away once we were on the air.
But unfortunately, so few people saw it comparatively that – by the way, “so few people” being five to 6 million people a week – but when “American Idol” has 30 million people a week, you can see why we were just getting killed. Yes?
Q: I happen to remember seeing it. I saw the one on the helicopter. Did you show any on the internal enforcement, efforts on internal enforcement?
MR. SHAPIRO: I’m not sure what you mean by internal enforcement?
Q: Going to existing businesses and checking or anything like that?
MR. SHAPIRO: Oh, yeah, in New Orleans, we followed officers raiding before a big sports game and they had all this counterfeit merchandise that people were selling. And we showed the confiscation of all of that.
Q: Up in Boston, for detention?
MR. SHAPIRO: Yeah, removal and detention, we did two or three stories with that. That was with ICE and basically ICE agents or undercover, they don’t want to be filmed. It took a while before we could find a unit that would let us film them. And we did that in Boston and we showed detention and removal. Yes, sir, again?
Q: And when you’re filming people getting arrested, you had to get their permission? And you actually – how would you do that?
MR. SHAPIRO: Well, a number of ways. You wait for the right time to go in with – because they have to sign something. I mean, we’re not news. News doesn’t have to do that but we’re a production company and it’s part of the entertainment division, not part of the news division.
Q: I remember one of your episodes showed a woman who had come in with exotic dancing supplies.
MR. SHAPIRO: Ah, yes. The Swiss miss. (Laughter.) That was a – yes.
Q: Was it the publicity?
MR. SHAPIRO: Yes, she wanted anything. (Laughter.) She had just arrived at LAX and caught our eye – very attractive. (Laughter.) And we came into the story about five minutes after it had begun. This officer was questioning her because she – I don’t know, something wasn’t right. Something, as we said, was amiss with this Swiss miss. (Laughter.)
And they proceeded to search her luggage and found all this body – exotic dancing apparel. And she said she was just coming as a tourist, and yet, all she had with her was – (laughter) – belly dancing attire.
So she said – she finally confessed that she was here to work, if she could. And they sent her back the next day. She was on a Swiss Air plane back to Zurich. Yeah, she signed readily because oh, a chance to be on American television. And I was sure we would get letters saying, we’ll offer her a job. (Laughter.) But we didn’t.
MR. KRIKORIAN: Did you get much reader – I mean, did you get much viewer feedback at all – in other words, letters, e-mails, any of that? Or did ABC get any?
MR. SHAPIRO: We got a few complimentary letters and e-mails. Most people don’t write unless it’s either – it really angers them or unless it’s maybe a show like “Lost,” which has some very loyal viewers. (Laughter.) People usually don’t write. Yes?
Q: I’m curious what actually inspired you to do the program to begin with.
MR. SHAPIRO: Well, I was – it wasn’t my idea. This is based on an Australian format called “Border Security.” They have a show over there called “Border Security.” Their border is obviously only water and air, not land, and it’s the number-one show in Australia and it’s been on for four years.
So ABC got the rights to follow their format, although it kind of surprised me because it wasn’t a unique format. I’ve been doing that format for years on other shows. And then they hired me thinking that I would be the best producer to make it happen. So it was just one of those fortuitous –
Q: I had thought maybe you had to sell it to ABC –
MR. SHAPIRO: No, no, no. They brought me in. It was already presold.
Q: And how long from the time you first approached CBP till you were –
MR. SHAPIRO: That’s a great question. It took about four months to just finalize everything, from the time I first approached them until we had a signed contract. And then we did the pilot in the summer of ’07. And then all of ’08, we did the series – from January until December. It took a whole year to do 13 one-hour episodes. And then it aired in ’09.
So it took about four months, but considering what I know now, it’s remarkable, being a government agency and being a big corporate network, like ABC, that this happened as fast as it did. Bill Anthony played no small part in it. I mean, he was very supportive. But they had never done anything like this. Now, like you said, they’re beginning to do some other things. The contract hadn’t been hammered out. And now, I understand, they use our contract as the basis for other shows that they’re doing.
MR. KRIKORIAN: So it’s not going to come out on DVD, right?
MR. SHAPIRO: I don’t think so because there were so few episodes.
MR. KRIKORIAN: And it’s already on – I noticed it looked like the whole thing is on YouTube, right? Now, would they have loaded that, or uploaded it?
MR. SHAPIRO: Oh, no, no, no. They wouldn’t have.
MR. KRIKORIAN: Okay, I didn’t think so. But it’s all there and it hasn’t been pulled down.
MR. SHAPIRO: Really? (Laughter.)
MR. KRIKORIAN: Sorry.
MR. SHAPIRO: I don’t know, yet.
MR. KRIKORIAN: Oh, okay, yeah, it’s up there.
MR. SHAPIRO: Every so often, I’ll get a request from somebody who wants a copy. But see, I don’t own the material, so – ABC owns the material. Any other questions that you’d like to ask about it? Yes.
Q: Do you have any desire to do something like this again, if you could sell it or find the right –
MR. SHAPIRO: Sure, sure. The stories never go away. I mean, sadly, they’re there. Some of the new shows that are being done, though, are more specific. Like, the National Geographic one is strictly CBP. And I know one is – somebody’s doing a pilot now for just air and marine – just trying to do that. So I mean, people are picking up pieces of it.
We tried to do everything. We were only able to do one Secret Service story because, well, the name says it’s secret – (laughter) – so we just couldn’t do much with the Secret Service. We couldn’t do much with ICE. We did several, though, in – and I mean, I didn’t know, when I began the series, that the United States has five international mail centers, where all foreign packages and letters that come to this country go through the mail center. And they’re sent through X-ray and things are inspected. And that’s – in doing – we got some of our most bizarre stories at the mail center, besides the usual cash and drugs and other contraband being sent forth.
We were there when they opened up a package from Thailand to – this guy had no idea what it was, but it was barbecued bass, a delicacy, apparently, in Thailand, but not legal to be brought into the United States. So that was found. So one more: They opened another package – we were right there watching the X-ray screen and he said, oh my god, that’s a human skull. And they opened the package and there were 12 human skulls from China. And who knows why, but that was another –
MR. KRIKORIAN: It was just the skull without the rest of – there wasn’t an actual head?
MR. SHAPIRO: No, but there was some brain matter in one of them.
MR. KRIKORIAN: (Chuckles.) Oh, jeez.
MR. SHAPIRO: And then, like I said, pills, illegal drugs, pills in toys – hidden in toys. Yes?
Q: I spent most of my adult life in Arizona, and used to cover the border, and used to live in Mexico for a while, as well. We are working on a video which we would like to take some of the heat that’s begin generated, as you know, from Arizona, and convert it into a light, with historical context that sort of explains how we got to where we are now and what the situation is along that 375-mile border, which, as you know, is intense corridor – actually a series of corridors – for illegal immigration.
Would you have any generic advice to those of us who are far more accustomed to working in print as to how to translate stories into video form – how to tell a story through the –
MR. SHAPIRO: Well, probably, hire a filmmaker – (laughter).
MR. KRIKORIAN: (Chuckles.) There you go.
Q: Advice for us if we don’t have a budget. (Laughter.)
MR. SHAPIRO: Well, hire a hungry filmmaker who wants the credit. I mean, that’s – it’s a complex question. Obviously, it’s a visual medium and you’re going to need historical footage. I don’t think ABC would give you any of this footage, but – I mean, you really need somebody who knows how to make films because – you know, I’ve done some writing in print and it’s obviously a whole different area in doing it. So unfortunately, I don’t have any advice but to wish you well, and find somebody, you know, who’s like-minded.
MR. KRIKORIAN: Do you think the – for instance, if National Geographic Channel is picking up Nick Stein’s “The Border Wars.” Now, are they not based in L.A.? In other words, do you think there’s a sort of geographic thing, there, too, that they’re not part of L.A. culture, or is National Geographic Channel there, too? Because it’s based here – I mean, the company is, but –
MR. SHAPIRO: Yeah, no, but National Geo is out there, too. It’s being produced out of Los Angeles. But these things can be produced out of anywhere. One of the funniest stories – I guess I’ll conclude with this unless you have any more questions – a guy – trying to remember where it was – oh, coming across the Canadian border, I think in Buffalo. And he was from Tennessee, and I don’t meant to stereotype, but he was a real hillbilly – big cowboy hat, thick accent – and a station wagon, or RV, just filled with junk.
You know, you don’t come across the border with that kind of vehicle because it just arouses suspicion. So they stopped him. And the first thing they found was a human skull, and he said he just carries it around, likes to play jokes on his friends. And they asked him if he had any weapons. He said, yeah, he had two handguns. And they said, okay, and he said, here, I’ll show them to you. (Laughter.)
He starts to move toward the vehicle and they jump on him. They say no, no, we’ll – you just tell us where they are; we’ll find them. They take him in for questioning, and it was all just innocent. He just wasn’t very bright. (Laughter.) And you don’t come across the border with two loaded handguns and a human skull in a very messy RV. So they told him next time, you know, leave the guns at home and leave the skull at home.
Then, at the very end, he puts on a Halloween mask for us and makes a face and drives off. I mean, there are just – (laughter) – the officer said, you know, I’ve been here a long time and this – you know, every so often, you have a first. And that was a first. Well, anyway, thank you for the only award this show will ever get. (Laughter, applause.)
MR. KRIKORIAN: Thank you, Arnold, for a nice – like I said, though, all the episodes are on YouTube, now, until ABC finds out about them, and then maybe they won’t be. But I’ve watched quite a few of them. They’re broken up into three parts or something like that. So they’re definitely worth watching.
Anyway, thanks for coming. I’m not sure we even have to leave. Actually, if you eat all the food that’s out there, that would be good because I already paid for it and the staff is going to eat it otherwise. So thank you, Arnold; thank you, everybody, for coming, and hope to see you next year, when we do next year’s Katz award. Thank you.
MR. SHAPIRO: Thank you for all your questions. (Applause.)